Getting Started As An Actor: Here’s How
I was recently asked on Quora to answer a question, and it was a whole lot of fun to do so.
Here’s what the question was:
Acting: How can one get started as an actor?
If you’re an actor, how did you get started? How did you get an agent? Did you study acting at university, or did you jump right in? How did you get connections? Cause right now all I can think to do is try to find something that looks interesting on Craigslist… Thanks for the advice!
I didn’t think I would spend as much time as I actually did to answer this question, but here’s what I said.
Getting started as an actor isn’t that hard. It one of the few jobs where you can actually just declare yourself an actor, even before you get your first audition or job. People do it all the time.
But, becoming successful as an actor is one of the hardest things you can attempt, with absolutely no guarantee of any kind. This business is the most capricious in the world – the best actor doesn’t always get the part, and so much is beyond your control that you have to be willing to be rejected on a daily basis.
I tell actors about my own journey when I coach them on how to be successful in this business, and it has happened specifically because I approach this as a business, and I’ve become really good at three things: the art, the commerce and the science of acting. If you don’t get mad skillz in all three areas, your chances for success rapidly evaporate.
The first part of my answer is to become expert at the art of acting: get the best training you can. I recommend forgoing any advanced drama degree or theatre program at a prestigious university – it won’t mean a thing to most people in the business. Do it if you love being in school, but if you want to get moving, don’t waste four years at any college or university.
Live life. Get your heart broken. Enjoy successes and failures. Suffer with rejection. Be elated when you win. Live…life. You’ll need it as an actor.
Then, with that experience and more life experience piled on, come here to LA, or go to New York, or Chicago, or London, or Sydney, and get in the best acting classes you can – classes that give you great training, put you in the room with other working actors, and show a casting director that you’re smart with your training choices.
Without a doubt, Howard Fine (howardfine.com) here in LA (and now in Australia) and HB Studios (hbstudio.org) in NY are going to be the very best you can get. And they are not the most expensive, either.
Pick up Secrets of Screen Acting by Patrick Tucker at (secretsofscreenacting.com) to fill in the blank spaces most classes miss. It was the difference between me appearing in what was supposed to be just one episode of Heroes and me doing three seasons.
Once you start training, you’ll naturally be drawn to getting involved into projects that will give you experience: student films, black-box theater, web series, voice over, commercials and more. Each of these will give you experience in the art of acting.
But that’s just the first part. There’s two more parts you need to get started.
The second part of my answer is that you must become expert at the commerce of acting: treat your acting practice to the best business acumen you can muster. And if you don’t have business training, find someone who can help you create the business structure you need.
Any actor you admire, that is well known and successful, is not only a good actor, but also a good businessperson, without exception. They treat their careers the way a lawyer or doctor nurtures their practice. They have a brand, a product (their ability to tell stories), customers (CDs, directors, producers etc) and they know how to fill their customers’ orders. They know how to market themselves (get auditions), they know how to sell themselves (execute those auditions), and they know how to collect their money and hire salespeople (agents and managers) to bring them more business.
Given that they also got great training, they know how to deliver a great product on set. That’s a given.
And you need to be open to working in new business models. Branded entertainment, high-profile off-network series, new distribution channels, union membership and coverage, all are contributing to amazing new ways of making money and having a successful acting career.
All of this will give you experience in the commerce of acting.
But that’s still not all you need. There’s one more area to explore to get started.
The third part of my answer is that you must master the science of acting: become expert in the technology you need to understand and use in the pursuit of your acting career.
This mastery of the science and technology includes creating the perfect profile for audition sites and grooming those profiles as you gain more work and experience. It includes mastering communications and production using the Internet, email, social media, sound, photo and video editing software and more. It means understanding how cameras, lights, microphones, makeup, costumes, your voice, your face, your actions, and all other components combine to tell a story on film or video. It means creating a space in your living quarters to record your auditions with competitive quality, and to know how to get those auditions to the gatekeepers who can help you get work. And, it means knowing how to use apps, like my Rehearsal® Pro app (rehearsal.pro/download), to help you solidly deliver the best performance you can by knowing your lines and being completely off-book.
This business has changed drastically toward a less analog and an almost completely digital world, and you need to be not only aware of those changes (it’s a daily moving target, I’m afraid, and you need to be on top of it all), but know how and when to take advantage of new technology and processes.
All of this will give you experience in the science of acting.
The art, the commerce and the science of acting. Just like any other business. That’s what you need to get started.
Caveat: I decided that when I started coaching actors on the business, I would both give them the best world-class advice about what to engage in, and also make sure they also knew what to avoid: what practices hucksters use to extract money from their wallets. It’s appalling how much of the latter competes with the former.
All three of these areas, the art, commerce and science of acting, are filled with charlatans who will hold out their hands, looking for cash, selling you a dream, offering to help you with exactly what you need without any regard to the quality of what they sell. Some are well meaning, but poor resources, and some are out and out scams. Find someone you can trust, someone who’s actually working as an actor and has a great acting practice themselves, and ask them for advice. Don’t be suckered by the con-artists.
One thing I noticed when I came to LA is that there is a large community of scammers just waiting to pounce on you. They exist in all the major production centers. They range from the “modeling agencies” who prey on parents who, of course, think their children are beautiful and shell out big bucks to get them “trained” and “working,” to managers who demand up front fees and the use of their recommended photographers, web site designers, stylists, publicists and more.
One final thing: you have to love this. You have to want this. You have to be willing to put a lot of work into it, only to be rejected because you’re too old, or too young, or too tall, or too short, or too plain, or too hot, or too creepy or…the list never ends. Roll with it. Move on. If you can’t do that, you’re in trouble before you begin. If you love being a storyteller, and can handle it when you find out you didn’t get the part because you look too much like the director’s ex, you’re in much better shape.
And that’s the answer to the question about getting started. Don’t get me started on how to use all that to become “successful,” because that’s a whole other answer.
I do hope this helps. And I hope you do get started. And that you love your life as an actor as much as I love mine.
Gotta go. I have an early call time.
Hope this helps. Anything you’ve learned when you got started as an actor? Share in the comments below.
I love it! Now I can just send this answer to everyone that asks. I only disagree on one thing. I do think that the 4 years of formal education are an incredibly valuable tool not for what you are being taught (which of course helps), but rather all the other intangibles that are part of it. Responsibility, deadlines, teamwork, dealing with authority, accomplishment, structure, relationships, support, etc.
Some people are born with them (you one of them no doubt), but for others, that might be the difference between taking their careers to the next level or not.
wow! This is the most informative, non-snarky, comprehensive answer to that crazy question, how do I become an actor, that I have ever heard. You have the soul and spirit of a teacher and helper. I’m definitely saving this as a resource for anyone who asks me that question in the future. Thanks again for all you do.
I completely understand, Memo. As I said in the article, do it if you love the school thing. And the other skills you get that you listed are important as well: responsibility, deadlines etc. Thanks for even taking the time to comment! I know you’re busy there in Miami!
What an complete, thoughtful, and informative response. You have indeed laid out a roadmap to work with. Thanks!
GREAT ADVICE! As always DHL 🙂 I find your tools on the REHEARSAL II app to be extremely helpful-when I get a script I load it-highligt my lines…and speak the other lines- It helps me with song lyrics as well!! I take improve classes–and you can never train enough- thanks for the hot tips on SECRETS OF SCREEN ACTING and HOWARD FINE!!! I always look forward to your e-mails-I have learned so much from you-David U-Rock!! Cheers 🙂 KK Ryder
David, I went to Drama School in my Forties, Needing the dedication and discipline of education and professionalism that I had not ha;. having joined the Navy at 17 to see the world.Then a whole life went by and here I am , reincarnated into a wonderland of technology. Getting out there and doing is the key, and I think what you have just written here is a great heap of good advice to everyone .Thank you for your inspiration, Linda Roper
Best. Advice. Ever.
“You have to be willing to put a lot of work into it, only to be rejected because you’re too old, or too young, or too tall, or too short, or too plain, or too hot, or too creepy or…the list never ends. Roll with it. Move on. If you can’t do that, you’re in trouble before you begin. If you love being a storyteller, and can handle it when you find out you didn’t get the part because you look too much like the director’s ex, you’re in much better shape.”
If you don’t mind I’m going to refer everyone to this article from now on.I get “how do become an actor” all the time, but I also get a lot of “how can I be famous” people who won’t like this, as they hate my answer, too. Tough. You’ve just saved me a lot of time, unless you say no.
It helps! 🙂
If you don’t mind I’m going to refer everyone to this article from now on. I get “How do you become an actor?” all the time, but I also get a lot of pretty demanding “How can I be famous!” people who won’t like this, as they hate my answer, too. But, tough, yes? You’ve just saved me a lot of time, unless you say no.
It helps! 🙂
I am hitting the “like” button over and over and over David. Saving this article as a motivator to keep me focused. I feel like you cut through all the mysterious, wishy washy, artsy fartsy ways most teachers would answer this question and you got down to a solid pathway. An objective, clear, get to work, no nonsense, follow your heart set of steps. Awesome, awesome stuff. Thank you David.
Thank you, David! I love how you summarized everything. I wish I knew so many of these things when I started my acting career 🙂 I’ve learned that surrounding myself with professional and reliable people (actors and civilians alike lol) is the most important thing in my acting career. People are conditional beings and conditions are prone to change, so over the years I’ve learned to be able to gradually let go of “clinging” to certain people and continue building new relationships in my acting network and outside of it. Also, I’ve learned that it’s not enough to be just an actor anymore, that learning other skills like writing, producing, etc. (which I have resisted at the beginning) is also essential. Finally, I’ve learned that – as ironic as it may sound – being an actor has made me so self-absorbed and so focused on the amount of auditions I got, roles I booked or did’t book, that I stopped taking the time to read, journal, observe, keep track of what’s happening in the world, and gave up my hobbies (for fear of not being “focused” enough). I was even afraid of traveling because I didn’t want to miss any auditions or acting opportunities. But I gave up these ideas since 🙂 Outside of the acting circle, I really enjoy the company of my non-actor friends, go watch plays, travel, read, write and feel that my life has become more wholesome overall, which is certainly making me a better actor ))